North American Retirees Moving to Mexico
By Bill Dahl
About The Author: Bill Dahl is an investigative journalist who recently completed 4 weeks in the Guadalajara/Chapala region of central Mexico examining the retirement possibilities.
“Where should I retire?” It ‘s a common question in North America as Baby Boomers contemplate how and where they might spend the remainder of this life. For tens of thousands, this question includes destinations outside the U.S. or Canada. Oftentimes, this process involves mulling over Mexico. Every January, the publication International Living, provides retirees with suggestions using their Annual Global Retirement Index. In 2018, Mexico was ranked as the 2nd Best Place to retire by IL. Estimates vary, but it’s safe to conclude that a few million Americans and Canadians now reside primarily in Mexico. That’s a lot of Gringos who have made the leap.
My wife and I began pondering this question last year. We spent hours upon hours searching the internet, watching a few hundred YouTube videos, and talking to others about this possibility. This included extensive conversations with our Hispanic friends in the U.S. – most of whom have family and friends currently residing in Mexico. During our marriage, we have traveled to Mexico on numerous occasions. Typically, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cozumel, Mexico City, a cruise to Ensenada, and a walk around Tijuana (for a few hours) – like most American and Canadian tourists do. So, we made a decision.
In August 2018, we set out for a region in Mexico we had never explored before: central Mexico – the state of Jalisco. This region was recommended to us by our Hispanic friends and confirmed by our research. What motivated us, along with millions of others? We had four: A reduced cost of living, access to more affordable healthcare, a better climate (no cold and snow), and new cultural adventures.
We flew from our home in Oregon to Guadalajara, Mexico (GDL) – a two stop, 2,300 mile flight (about 12 hours door-to-door) on Alaska Airlines. We stayed at a hotel in Zona Centro Historico in downtown Guadalajara for four days ($56 U.S. per night, for a huge room with an outdoor balcony, including breakfast). We found Guadalajara to be a truly magical city – one that most North American tourists never visit. The people, architecture, art, weather, food, value, transportation, history and culture were mesmerizing. We yearned to return.
We departed Guadalajara via UBER for a 45 minute ride to our hotel in Ajijic (Ah-hee-heek) for a 7 day stay, on the shores of Lake Chapala – home to a purported 20,000 expats from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the U.K. Lake Chapala is the largest body of fresh water in Mexico spanning some 48 miles in length and up to 12 miles wide. It has a superb climate averaging 72 degrees F year round. In August, it is winter in the Chapala area. It rains at night (as it does in Guadalajara). Locals refer to the climate as eternal spring. The busy season is November through May when snowbirds arrive from the north to enjoy the area.
You simply cannot come away from a stay on the north shore of Lake Chapala indelibly and wholly entranced by its multi-dimensional beauty. It is hypnotic. The flowers and vegetation are explosive in their myriad of colors, forms and scents. The vistas are fantastic. The people, food, landscape, weather, art, culture, options for activity and entertainment, accommodations, value, and architecture are all hypnotic. We even took a tour of the area with a local realtor (who had relocated here a year earlier from Wisconsin). Our four primary considerations we set out to explore first hand appeared to be verified: A reduced cost of living, access to more affordable healthcare, a better climate, and new cultural adventures.
During our stay in Ajijic, we had the opportunity to meet with couples from the U.S. and Canada who were attending a seminar at the hotel we were staying in. It was called Focus on Mexico – A Learning Adventure. These couples, like us, were exploring the possibility of retiring to this area of Mexico. To a person, these folks shared that “I cannot imagine retiring in Mexico without attending the FOM experience.” We flew back to the U.S. glowing – we’ve found it.
We continued our discussions and my wife returned to work. “I think you should attend the next Focus on Mexico seminar,” she said. I registered for the seminar and confirmed my travel plans for two weeks in late October to early November 2018. I studied to improve my Spanish language skills for 5 weeks prior to departure. We also made a list of questions to answer on this second exploration trip. These included:
What are the actual housing costs in the Lakeside market at this time? What does access to more affordable healthcare really mean? What are the immigration and customs considerations? Can we bring our pets and vehicles? What does the area around the entirety of the lake look like? What is the reality for access to wi-fi, the internet, and satellite television look like? What is the water quality in the lake? What is the state of the local infrastructure (sewer, wastewater treatment, water quality and electricity)? What about the available options for banking/finance/investment and currency conversion? Is local government stable and adequately funded? What does public safety look like?
I’ll provide the answers to these Mexiconsiderations – and many more issues – in the upcoming articles in this series.